Monday, April 19, 2010

Dispatch from Pleasantville

Goad It On

At this writing, I am sitting on a front stoop in Pleasantville, NY. We're at Carol's cousin's house and the sun has won the day. Matt is sitting next to me, playing blues riffs on his cousin Benji's electric guitar. Spring is in high-def down here. Driving down, the hills of Dutchess County were obedient with light green, a command taken up in amazing unanimity. On the lawns dandelions abound. White-throated sparrows are piping their clear Morse Codish old...sam...peabody peabody peabody, kind of a one-bird air purifier. You can see just how close April is to May down here. It's about a week further ahead in the plot than we are in Boston.

Yesterday we were in a northern tier—Northampton, Mass. and northwestern Connecticut—where spring is taking a more cautious foothold, behind us. We were at Smith College at a recital by Alicia DePaolo, whom I have known since she was four. She is 21 now, a lovely and supremely gifted soprano, singing a program of baroque songs by Handel, Purcell, and some lovesick Italian fellows. To say it was beautiful is to raise the describer's white flag: words not equal to task.

The program included "Three Supernatural Songs," a trio of short poems by William Butler Yeats set to music (the composer, a Smith professor, was in the audience). In the spirit of Poetry Month, I reprint one here:

A Needle's Eye

All the stream that's roaring by
Came out of a needle's eye;
Things unborn, things that are gone,
From needle's eye still goad it on.

I like the idea that the stream—life, nature, the current of being—is driven by the not-yet-alive and the once-alive.

I forgot my father's birthday this month, as I think I do most Aprils. I think it was the 18th, or maybe the 14th. A lapse. The dead don't speak loudly, and spring is a clamor. Still, an almanacker should do better than forget his dad's birthday.

However, if what Yeats says is true, and my dad is part of the force that's responsible for spring, then all that time I spent distracted by tree florets and goldfinches was actually time spent remembering him.


I said to Matthew, "This time I show no mercy."

We were driving from Northampton to Salisbury, Conn., a ninety-minute drive. I suggested a game of Ghost to pass the time. Carol declined. Matt was willing. After giving him my warning, I proceeded to lose the first game. And the third. And the fifth.

I began a new round with an M. He said Y. I thought of adding an R for myrrh, which he might not know. But if he did, it would land on me, so I opted for lobbing out an S, not sure where mystery or mysterious or mystic would land. In any case, he didn't cooperate. Seeming not to have a clue where I was going, he said E.

MYSE? What the hell? Was he throwing in the towel? "I challenge," I said, feeling a bit merciless, even though I had warned him.

"Myself," he said.

Arrrrrrrrrgh!! Totally blindsided! And, he pointed out with a grin, it would have landed on him. Unless, I thought, he turned it to "myselves....." Oh. Never mind. But what a good title Myselves would make for, say, a memoir of a multiple personality.

Anyway, it was clear that a Ghost's creed should be: "Avoid mystery. Always opt for myself."

On to New York.

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